Yoga is a discipline, which when practiced, activates not only physical body but also the intellect. The Sanskrit word ‘Yoga’ means ‘to unite’. With spiritual core imbibed into it, Yoga is considered more than a mere physical exercise. It is a meditative means of discovering any physical as well as psychological disturbances of the body to overcome related sufferings. The one who practices Yoga is called Yogi (male) or Yogini (female).
Origin and Illustrations
The origin of yoga was speculated back to pre-Vedic Indian tradition. Ascetic practices such as ‘Sacrifice’ (Yajna) performed by Vedic priests, and Penance (Tapa) performed by ancient sages required great concentration, thus the Yogic postures and practices became part of rituals.
Yoga is specified in the Rigveda as a dedication to rising Sun (Savitri). Atharvaveda, emphasized on bodily postures (Asana) and techniques for controlling breath. The practice of pranayama (consciously regulating breath) and meditation is referred in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. The practice of pratyahara (concentrating on senses), the five kinds of vital energies (Prana), and the concepts such as internal sound and veins (Nadi) are described in Chandogya Upanishad. Taittiriya Upanishad defines yoga as the mastery of body and senses.
According to ‘Kathopanishad’- When the five senses, along with the mind remain still and the intellect is not active, that is known as the highest state, and this is possible only by Yoga because Yoga is a firm restraint of the five senses, mind and intellect. Shvetashvatara Upanishad states a procedure in which the body is held in upright posture, the breath is restrained and mind is meditatively focused, with no noises around. This is a Dhyana practice which is part of Yoga.
The Maitrayaniya Upanishad mentions six fold yoga methods – Breath control (Pranayama), Introspective withdrawal of senses (Pratyahara), Meditation (Dhyana), Mind concentration (Dharana), Philosophical reasoning (Tarka), and Intense spiritual union (Samadhi).
Illustration of Yoga principle is found in various Hindu texts.
1. Yoga concepts were referred in the Shanti Parva of Mahabharata Epic. Mahabharata defines the purpose of Yoga as the experience of uniting the individual soul (Jeevatma) with the Universal Brahman (Paramatma).
2. It is said in Bhagavad Gita ‘Know that, which is called yoga to be separation from contact with suffering’. The Bhagavad Gita refers to traditional yoga practice, including meditation. It introduces three prominent types of Yoga; the elements of these are distributed in all the 18 chapters of Gita.
• Karma yoga: The yoga of action.
• Bhakti yoga: The yoga of devotion.
• Jnana yoga: The yoga of knowledge.
3. Kauṭilya’s Arthashastra states that there are three categories of Philosophies (Anviksikis) – Samkhya (Nontheistic), Yoga (Theistic) and Charvaka (Atheistic materialism).
4. The Yoga Yajnavalkya is a knowledge book on Yoga composed by Vedic sage Yajnavalkya. It was written in the form of a dialogue between Sage Yajnavalkya and a renowned philosopher by name Gargi. The book describes 8 yoga Asanas – ‘Swastika, Gomukha, Padma, Vira, Simha, Bhadra, Mukta and Mayura’, and also explains numerous breathing exercises for body cleansing and meditation. According to this book –
संयोगो योग इत्युक्तो जीवात्मपरमात्मनोः॥
saṁyogo yoga ityukto jīvātma-paramātmanoḥ॥
Meaning: ‘Yoga is union of the individual soul (jivatma) with the supreme (paramatma)’.
‘Hatha Yoga Pradipika’, ‘Yoga Kundalini’ and the ‘Yoga Tattva Upanishad’ refer to the hymns of Yoga Yajnavalkya.
5. Shiva Samhita, Gheranda Samhita by Gheranda.
6. Goraksha Samhita authored by Gorakshanath, a preacher of Hatha Yoga.
7. Yoga Vasistha text describes Yoga methods.
8. As per Vaiseshika sutra ‘By Yoga, when the mind is in the self, there is no suffering arises’. As said by Jagadguru Adi Shankaracharya in Brahmasutra-bhashya ‘Yoga is the means of perceiving reality’.
Yoga is one of the six philosophical traditions of ancient Bharat, which are ‘Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa and Vedanta’. Patanjali systematized Yoga, building the Sutras on the foundational metaphysics of Samkhya. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are widely regarded as the first compilation of the formal yoga philosophy. Many later Indian scholars studied and provided commentaries, such as the Vyasa Bhashya. Vyasa’s ‘Samkhya Pravachana Bhashya’ (Commentary on the Yoga Sutras and on the exposition of the Sankhya Philosophy), describes the relation between the two systems. The difference between these two philosophies is that Yoga accepted the conception of God, while Samkhya developed as a rationalist system of Hindu philosophy.
Types of Yoga
There are various types of Yoga which include ‘Raja Yoga’, ‘Hatha Yoga’, ‘Jnana Yoga’, ‘Bhakti Yoga’, ‘Tantra Yoga’, ‘Yantra Yoga’, ‘Karma Yoga’, ‘Kriya Yoga’, and ‘Laya Yoga’.
The ‘Bhakti Yoga’ evolved from the Bhakti movement, initiated by the Alvars of South India. Shaiva and Vaishnava bhakti traditions integrated aspects of Yoga Sutras, such as the practical meditative exercises, with devotion.
The Nyingma tradition practices ‘Yantra yoga’, a discipline that includes breath work (or pranayama), meditative contemplation and other exercises. The term ‘Kriya-Yoga’ means ‘a discipline connected with an action’. The spiritual sense of this word is ‘union with the supreme’ with respect to performance of duties in everyday life.
The most well-known types of yoga are Hatha yoga and Raja yoga. ‘Hatha yoga’, also called Hatha Vidya, emerged from Tantra. Elements of ‘Tantric yoga’ rituals were mostly adopted by Buddhists. Hatha yoga, is a kind of yoga focusing on physical and mental strength building exercises and postures. Hatha yoga intermingles with elements of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras with respect to posture and breathing exercises.
Patanjali Yoga Sutras
Sage Patanjali compiled Yoga Sutras and revealed to the world. According to Yoga Sutras of Patanjali ‘Yoga is the suppression of the activities of the mind’.
Patanjali defines the word ‘yoga’ as
योगश्चिlत्तवृत्तिनिरोधः (yogaś chitta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ)
Meaning: ‘Yoga controls State of Mind’. Yoga is the controlling or restraining mode (nirodhaḥ) of the disturbed mind that goes round about on various thoughts (chitta vṛtti). Only those who control the thought waves of the mind can realise the peace within.
‘Raja Yoga’, which is said to lead to the ultimate goal Samadhi, refers to Ashtanga Yoga, the eight limbs to be practiced, as described in the Yoga Sutras of Pantajali. Ashtanga yoga incorporates systematic exercises and self-development techniques for body, along with ethical practices. The Yoga incorporates ‘Yama’ and ‘Niyama’ (ethical precepts) and a disciplined way of life perfecting one’s self (physical, psychological and spiritual), with the ultimate goal of salvation. Patanjali states that each of these self-disciplines helps in the personal growth of an individual. For example, the virtue of nonviolence (Ahimsa), one of the Yamas, leads to the abandonment of enmity, a state that leads to the inner peace.
1. Yamas are ethical rules. There are five Yamas listed by Patanjali in Yogasūtra,
Ahimsa (अहिंसा) – Non-violence, Satya (सत्य) – Truthfulness, Asteya (अस्तेय) – Non-stealing, Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य) – Sexual Restraint, and Aparigraha (अपरिग्रहः) – Non-possessiveness
2. Niyamas are the observances. There are five Niyamas.
Śauca (शौच) – Purity of mind speech and body, Santoṣa (संतोष) – Contentment and acceptance of others, Tapas ( ) – Austerity and Persistent meditation, Svādhyāya – Self study, Īśvarapraṇidhāna – Contemplation of Supreme Being.
3. Āsanas are the Sitting Postures for yoga and meditation.
Sitting in a relaxed position with two legs folded is the posture that is simple and very common; it is called ‘Sukhasanam’ (सुखमासनम्). The same posture in steady and motionless form is called ‘Sthira Sukhasanam’ (स्थिरसुखमासनम्). Some of other asanas are Padmasana (lotus), Veerasana (heroic), Bhadrasana (glorious), Svastikasana (like the mystical sign), Dandasana (staff), Sopasrayasana (supported), Paryankasana (bedstead), Krauncha-nishadasana (seated heron), Hastanishadasana (seated elephant), Ushtranishadasana (seated camel), Samasansthanasana (evenly balanced), Siddhasana (accomplished), Sinhasana (lion)
4. Prāṇāyāma is a Breathing exercise (Prāna प्राण – breath, āyāma आयाम – to stretch and restrain). This is the practice of consciously regulating breath, by inhaling and then suspending exhalation for a period, exhaling and then suspending inhalation for a period.
5. Pratyāhāra is Abstraction (Prati प्रति- against, āhāra आहार – bring near) – Withdrawal of the sense organs from external objects. It is consciously closing one’s mind processes to the sensory world, for self extraction and abstraction.
6. Dhāranā (धारणा) is Concentration (dhṛ धृ means ‘to hold’) – Fixing the attention on a mantra or breath or any single object, without drifting of mind.
7. Dhyāna (ध्यान) is Meditation – Intense contemplation. process of mind Dhyana is distinct from Dharana in that the meditator becomes actively engaged with its focus. Shankara gives the example of a yogin in a state of dharana on morning sun may be aware of its brilliance, color and orbit; the yogin in dhyana state contemplates on sun’s orbit alone for example, without being interrupted by its color, brilliance or other related ideas.
8. Samādhi (समाधि) is Liberation – merging consciousness with the meditation. Samadhi is that spiritual state when one’s mind is so absorbed in whatever it is contemplating on, that the mind loses the sense of its own identity.
Surya Namaskar is worshipping Sun God through Yoga asanas. There are 12 asanas in Surya Namaskar. Doing these 12 asanas two times make one namaskar. Each asana goes with chanting a mantra with a physical posture. Surya Namaskar is supposed to be done at sunrise or at sunset time.
Yoga activates the Kundalini Shakti (body Energy) which is in sleeping state beneath Mooladhara Chakra. The Shakti passes through all 6 chakras of the body and unites with Shiva Shakti (Cosmic Energy) in Sahasrara Chakra above the head of living being.
According to one of the Rigveda hymns –
युञ्जते मन उत युञ्जते धियो विप्रा विप्रस्य बृहतो विपश्चितः।
वि होत्रा दधे वयुनाविदेक इन्मही देवस्य सवितुः परिष्टुतिः॥१॥
‘The highly knowledgeable Brahmans of the Brahman category control their minds with the help of necessary discipline and spiritual practices (yoga). They churn their mind and force their thoughts (through yogic power) to the illuminating Savitri, the Sun God’.
Benefits of Yoga
Yoga reduces stress and improves some medical conditions such as premenstrual syndrome and decreases depression, insomnia, pain, and fatigue. Yoga helps in preventing cancer, asthma, heart problem, thyroid problem, obesity related problems etc. Yoga reduces the need of any medicines, increases physical stamina, and balances the conditions brought about by a deskbound lifestyle. It is particularly promoted as a course of therapy to balance external as well as internal parts of the body.
Swamy Vivekananda popularised Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which are now considered as the foundational scripture of classical yoga. Though originated from Hinduism, Yoga is also practiced by other religions such as Buddhism, Jainism etc. In 2016, yoga was listed as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO. Most of the countries now believe in Yoga, and 21st June of every year is observed as International Day of Yoga.